Surf or Sports Photographer?

What makes a great surf photo in my eyes?

There is so many elements that make up an amazing surf photo but I am not going into the technical jargon side of aspects here, basically just what I look for in my own surf photography and how that effects my judgement as a photo editor.

The first thing I see when I look at my own work is how basic the actual capture of the photo is, I cant stand my own photos when I know how basic it was to capture the moment, I know I have a job to do by portraying that split second of action, telling a visual story, but I cant help feeling like an imposter of actually calling my self a “surf photographer” when in reality I was on the sidelines pointing a camera, that is dead easy. Photographers all over the world shoot sports this way and do an amazing job highlighting the very moments and plays that dictate the game, they are called “sports photographers” not basketball or football photographers but sports photographers so why would I call myself a surf photographers if I am capturing a surf scene the same way? I personally and this has only been my focus/outlook for the last three or four years would rather miss every bit of action to take that one photo where I actually feel like a surf photographer and proud to say it, yes I miss the stickers for sponsors, magazine Editors wonder why I didn’t get the postage stamp for the next issue, surfers are dark on me for missing that wave, well I don’t give a rats ass anymore because I know what effort went into that one shot I may or may not have captured on any given day.

When I take this same approach to looking at others work as a photo editor its very difficult because most photos that come across the desk are the surfers magic moment, well captured for sure, tells a little story with some creative flair but in the end a basic photo, very rarely am I just blown away by a surf photo but when I am its just nice to admire the skill level involved, Pat Stacy Surfing Mag Cover of Timmy Reyes,  Zac Noyle – Tahiti shot, Jon Frank / Stu Gibson – Shippies Photos, Spencer Hornby – Ritchie Vas photo at Ours just to name a few off the top of the head, all captured with complete skills.

To give you an example how I relate this approach through my own work: Justin Allport crazy slab, this photo is 10 out of 10 for impact to the viewer and so it should, its an incredible amount of water coming down on a surfer that has no escape route, personally for me as a photographer its only 1 out of 10 for capture, the 1 for being in the right place at the right time but other than it’s a basic shot.

Chris Ross stand up tube, this is by far the best photo I have captured on a personal skill level and has given me a greater sense of achievement because I know what went into this shot to be able to capture this moment, it may only be a 3 out of ten for impact to the viewer but personal skill level is right up there, I actually feel like a surf photographer and the feeling of that moment was incredible.

I have to learn to separate my photography and my role as a photo editor, be extremely critical on my photography experiences and on the other hand judge others work for the photo impact alone which is a little strange because I am disliking all my work with the exception of a few shots and excepting photos that I know are very easy to take.

The formula I have devised so I can be both photographer/photo ED: Skill level of capture + Impact of the photo. Ask yourself this next time while looking at a photo before passing judgement on your own and others work and the outlook may be far different, are you really a “surf photographer”.





  1. charlieszr4

    What a beautiful and interesting way to see the wave! Makes you realize how much force is behind one wave… Thanks for sharing these pictures!

  2. Russ your work is deep! As in killer or macking. Gotta put your life on the line for those shots…or maybe the waves just come your way. ??Anyways mad props cuz im still trying to get that shot like Chris R in that tube. Not sure if I have seen a sight like that… yet! Well besides your photo here! Anywas nice photos! Always inspirning nd sturrff! Chee!

  3. Hey Russell, I know that surf photography is definitely not my forte but I look at your photos with absolute awe and amazement. Maybe your being a bit hard on yourself, after all we are our own worst critics.
    You know you were saying that you judge the shots on skill level and impact of the photo and it’s funny because I wouldn’t even think of the skill level. For you to get the shot aren’t you in the water a lot of the time? So you are out there in those waves that are mammoth, I think that in itself is pretty damn skillful. I know that you take shots from the sidelines too but would that not just be a part of the job, sometimes in the water sometimes out?
    Anyway just my two cents worth and for what it’s worth I think that your photography is amazing and I look at your surf photography in amazement.

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